Words that people get confused, part XIII
Predominately and predominantly.
I was going to write a nice little piece about the difference between the words ‘predominately’ and ‘predominantly’, explaining that people often confuse them and that’s understandable.
But now I’ve done some research to underpin my own knowledge and that has thrown up a few issues which actually undermine my knowledge, so this piece will now be a short essay on the evolution of language and how even experts can get caught out…
To begin at the beginning, as a great poet* once said…
I heard someone use the word ‘predominately’ in what I thought was the wrong context, saying something consisted ‘predominately’ of something else.
Ha, I thought, they mean ‘predominantly’.
Let’s look at the definitions:
predominate | prɪˈdɒmɪneɪt | verb [no object]
predominant | prɪˈdɒmɪn(ə)nt | adjective
Now, what I believed, and what the definitions show here, is that something can predominate in a given situation but it doesn’t do it ‘predominately’.
For example, wrens predominate (verb) in the UK as a bird species. They are the predominant (adjective) species. Birds in the UK are predominantly (adverb) wrens.
Fairly cut and dried, yes?
Turns out, ‘predominately’ can be used in place of ‘predominantly’. They mean the same thing!
I dove deeper into this lexiconic conundrum.
US dictionary Merriam-Webster states that the two words can be used interchangeably, which proves to be a contentious position, judging by the comments left on its web page.
The online Cambridge Dictionary, despite providing examples of the word ‘predominately’ used in sentences, says the word isn’t in the Cambridge Dictionary yet.
Wiktionary states that, though ‘predominately’ is the older word (by 100 years, being recorded in use as far back as 1594), ‘predominantly’ is now preferred.
It seems that what happened is that English, having as its foundation several squillion other languages, took two words meaning the same thing from two different languages and kept them both, like a vocab hoarder.
Predominantly is derived from Middle French, while predominately is derived from Medieval Latin.
I think we need to do a little Marie Kondo clear-out of our language so we don’t keep getting confused.
In the meantime, of the two words, the one I will predominantly be using is…
* Dylan Thomas.